Johnny’s Selected Seeds is a 100% employee-owned national and international multichannel seed producer and merchant located in Central Maine (United States). Founded in 1973 by Rob Johnston, Jr, the company’s commitment to organics and to its mission has remained strong: Helping families, friends, and communities to feed one another by providing superior seeds, tools, information, and service.
Organic sales outpacing conventional by nearly double
Throughout our 40-plus-year history we have served growers of diverse sizes, methodologies, and priorities — a primary one being sustainable and certified-organic food production. “Currently, organics represent approximately one-fourth of our total sales,” says Dave Mehlhorn, Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “And while sales of both untreated conventional and organic seed are growing, organic sales are outpacing conventional by nearly double.”
Trialing within an organic system
At Johnny’s we strive to meet the needs of the professional grower as well as the avid home gardener sector by offering selections based on our own research and trial results. We take the “Selected” component of our name seriously, maintaining an extensive trialing program to carefully evaluate, select, and offer only the top-performing products.
“Any time an organic product is available, we are trialing it,” states Lauren Giroux, Director of Product Selection and Trialing. “The key is that we are trialing within an organic system. Even the seed we trial that is developed and produced conventionally, is being subjected to pressures characteristic of the low-input system. And we are selecting for superior performance within that organic system.”
“We are also unique,” adds Quality Assurance Manager Bonita Nichols, “in that we support sustainable agriculture with both certified-organic seed and an exclusive line of tools and supplies to support sustainable crop care.”
Supporting Organic Growers by Supporting the Science
As a whole, the organic industry is experiencing a 13% growth rate, with organic farming and organic seed being just two of multiple contributing segments. “For a large portion of Johnny’s customer segment — direct-market and specialty crop growers — that demand has created the disparity between the acreage available for organic production and the market,” notes Luke Donahue, Johnny’s Northeastern Sales Representative. “This sector is increasingly organic, and vitally important because they are directly feeding communities.
“Johnny’s supports increased research for organic farming systems to help growers meet market demands,” adds Donahue. “We want to stay on the cutting-edge of the current state of organic seed production, variety trialing in organic systems, and learning and gaining information from those who are doing critical research in organics. To do that, we identify and participate with those who are doing organic research, engage with our customers on issues particular to organics, and in turn, contribute through our own vetting process of trials for our customers.”
A good farmer should be able to walk into a field and see the present, the past, and the future
Sustainability at Johnny’s Research Farm
In the field, Johnny’s has recently renewed its longstanding commitment to sustainable agriculture by instituting a comprehensive farm seed plan, spearheaded by our R&D Station Manager, Eero Ruuttila, a 35-year champion of organic farming. It is the organic matter in the soil that provides the foundation of a good organic growing practice. “You can’t cheat biology,” says Ruuttila. “You need to think long term, and long term is your soil.”
At our farm, we are making the utilization of legume–grain (green manure) cover crops, in rotation with Johnny’s annual breeding and field trials, central to research farm field management practices. Some fields will be fallowed for the entire year with double-cropping of field peas and oats. Other fields are in a 2-year fallow of barley–Japanese millet nurse crops coupled with biannual sweet clover.
In many fields we are changing spacing alignment of plastic mulches to accommodate living-mulch strips of oats and medium red clover. Our goal is to minimize bare soil conditions throughout the farm and, where possible, to flush weeds through living-mulch strips via timely mowing of weeds prior to setting seed heads. Longer term, we will have significant acreage in nitrogen-fixing legumes reducing our purchase of organic fertilizer blends, and we are now producing our own hay. This more expansive utilization of cover crops will reduce primary tillage in many of our fields, benefitting the microbial soil communities at our farm. “A good farmer should be able to walk into a field,” explains Ruuttila, “and see the present, the past, and the future.”